Authors: Benvenuto Cellini

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Italian artist and memoirist

Author Works


La Vita di Benvenuto Cellini, wr. 1558-1562, pb. 1728 (The Life of Benvenuto Cellini, a Florentine Artist, 1771; better known as Autobiography)


The son of Giovanni Cellini, a Florentine musician and maker of musical instruments, Benvenuto Cellini (chayl-LEE-nee) was named Benvenuto (which literally means “welcome”) because he was the first son born to his parents, who had been married eighteen years. At the age of fifteen, he was apprenticed to a Florentine goldsmith, Marcone, although his father long clung to the hope of making the boy a musician; in fact, largely in deference to his father’s wishes, Cellini did become a skillful flutist but resented the interference of “that accursed music” with his own preference for metal working and sculpture.{$I[AN]9810000599}{$I[A]Cellini, Benvenuto}{$I[geo]ITALY;Cellini, Benvenuto}{$I[tim]1500;Cellini, Benvenuto}

Benvenuto Cellini

(Library of Congress)

Always quarrelsome, he was banished from Florence for six months because of a fight. He went to Siena and Bologna, where he engaged in metal work, and at the age of nineteen he made his first trip to Rome. There, some of his work for the bishop of Salamanca attracted the notice of Pope Clement VII, to whose court he became attached as a musician. By his own account, he took part in the defense of Rome against the army of the Constable de Bourbon, performing, as he puts it, “incredible” feats of valor, including the shooting of the Bourbon himself.

After an interval spent in Florence and at the court of the duke of Mantua, Cellini returned to Rome, where he was employed in setting jewelry and in executing dies for private medallions, as well as for the papal mint. By 1529, he seems to have committed at least two homicides as well as to have been engaged in a number of brawls. He fell from papal favor, but he was reinstated under Paul III. Later, he again had to flee Rome, this time going to Florence and Venice, but again he was pardoned.

In 1537, he made his first trip to the court of Francis I of France. On his return to Italy, he was imprisoned on a charge of having embezzled the gems of a pontifical tiara during the attack upon Rome. His memoirs give a graphic, at times lurid, account of his unsuccessful attempt to escape, of the hardships of his imprisonment, of his foiling of a poison plot against his life, and of his religious visions.

Released at the intercession of the cardinal of Ferrara, he returned to Francis I, spending about five years in arduous work for the French ruler. In 1545, he returned to his native city of Florence, where he spent the balance of his life, though not much more serenely than before. He tells, for example, of a violent quarrel with the sculptor Baccio Bandinelli, who had accused Cellini of sexual perversions, of his participation in the defense of Florence in the war with Siena, and of his shabby treatment at the hands of his ducal patrons there. He continued to receive widespread acclaim for his work, however. It is commonly believed that at his death in Florence on February 13, 1571, he was still unmarried and without children, although some sources state that he married Piera de Salvadore Parigi about 1565.

His works, many of which have been lost, include a variety of gold medallions and a salt cellar done for Francis I. Of a more ambitious scope are his bronze group Perseus Holding the Head of Medusa; silver statues of Jupiter, Mars, and Vulcan; and a bust of Julius Caesar.

Cellini’s Autobiography, begun in 1558, is the source for most of the information about him. The style is racy, direct, and energetic, and, with apparently no sense of incongruity, Cellini blends sensuous love of beauty, religious fervor, brash self-congratulation, eroticism, haggling, and homicide. The work can thus be considered a crystallization of much that is characteristic of the Italian Renaissance.

BibliographyAvery, C. “Benvenuto Cellini’s Bust of Bindo Altoviti.” The Connoisseur 198 (May, 1978): 62-72. An unusual look at one of Cellini’s portrait bronzes. Not very penetrating, but it does give some account of a mode of work in which the sculptor excelled and for which he is little remembered.Barolsky, Paul. “Cellini, Visari, and the Marvels of Malady.” The Sixteenth Century Journal 24, no. 1 (Spring, 1993). Discusses the fever-dream recounted in Cellini’s autobiography as an example of the link between illness, marvels, and the realm of the fantastic.Cellini, Benvenuto. The Life of Benvenuto Cellini. Translated with an introduction by John Addington Symonds. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1961. This is the standard English translation of Cellini’s autobiography. It is faulted on several counts, largely for its tendency to clean up and standardize Cellini’s vigorous and colloquial Italian, yet it is coherent and very readable. Includes footnotes that put into context the many characters in Cellini’s story.Cellini, Benvenuto. The Treatises of Benvenuto Cellini on Goldsmithing and Sculpture. Translated by C. R. Ashby. London: E. Arnold, 1898. This work by Cellini describes his beliefs about the trades to which he devoted his life.Königsberger, Dorothy. “Leben des Benvenuto Cellini: Goethe, Cellini, and Transformation.” European History Quarterly 22, no. 1 (January, 1992). Two great artists are studied in this English translation.Pope-Hennessy, John Wyndham. Cellini. 2d ed. New York: Abbeville Press, 1985. A biographical study.Pope-Hennessy, John. Cellini. New York: Abbeville Press, 1985. This magnificent work contains full photodocumentation of Cellini’s surviving works and drawings, and the casts of some that have been lost. Pope-Hennessy has written an absorbing and readable essay on Cellini’s life and works for the book. Contains much information not in Cellini’s autobiography. His descriptions of Cellini as an accountant, record-keeper, and litigant are especially fascinating, revealing Cellini’s nonswashbuckling side. The book is probably the best source on Cellini next to the autobiography and makes good use of many contemporary sources. Includes a good index, notes, and a bibliography.Scalini, Mario. Benvenuto Cellini. Translated by Kate Singleton. New York: Riverside, 1995. From the series The Library of Great Masters. Includes bibliographical references.Vasari, Giorgio. Lives of the Painters, Sculptors, and Architects. Translated with an introduction by William Gaunt. London: Dent, 1963. This four-volume work is a trove of biographical information on Renaissance artists, compiled and written by a fellow artist and contemporary. Although there is no separate entry on Cellini, he is mentioned in many of the other artists’ biographies. Includes an index.Vaughan, Herbert M. Studies in the Italian Renaissance. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1929. Examines Cellini in his historical context.Ward, Roger. “New Drawings by Bandinelli and Cellini.” Master Drawings 31, no. 4 (Winter, 1993). A view of Cellini and one of his rivals.
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